The Air Problem In the United States

In the U.S. we talk a lot about our air pollution problems. We act as if our air supply is infinitely available. But some areas have bigger pollution problems than others — less available air, in some ways. And different pollutants abound in different areas. My recent trip to China highlighted just what air quality problems can do to one’s health; I got bronchitis, and I’m a healthy adult. Just think what children, seniors and people with various breathing problems suffer from breathing polluted air.

The United States government has recently announced that the air in 345 counties in the United States is not fit to breathe. This announcement was made to help underscore the importance of finding ways both governmentally and citizen-wise to help decrease the air pollution.

Of the 700 counties that are routinely tested, this means that almost 1/2 of them had air that was unhealthy. This is scary and should be an impetus to citizens, the EPA, city, state, and local governments, and businesses that something needs to be done to help stop this epidemic.

Ozone is the main area where the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is enacting stricter regulations. They are calling these restrictions, “among the strictest ever” to help decrease the amount of ozone that is released into the air via businesses, electric plants, and oil plants. This is to help the millions of people that are affected every day by the smog that is in the air due to ozone.

The restriction decreases the amount of ozone that is considered “safe” from 80 parts per billion (ppb) to 75ppb. Though this is a start, it’s not thought to be enough by some health care providers and experts on air quality.

Why is this not enough? Many studies have found that children who are exposed to ozone of 50ppb for approximately an hour have symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. This is in children who have active asthma symptoms. In the elderly, they begin to feel the effects at about 60ppb. This is 15-25ppb lower than the amount that is considered by the EPA to be “safe”. Is it any wonder that people with asthma are having so many more symptoms these days?

The interesting reality is there really no “safe” level of ozone. The effects on the lungs over a lifetime are difficult to measure and with the amounts at this high level, it is almost certain that there is some effect. Many studies have found that the increased level of ozone has some part in the number of premature deaths that occur in our country. This is most likely true, due to the fact that ozone does have an effect upon the lungs and other organs of the body.

The disheartening thing about this whole situation is that we will end up paying for the changes that need to be made. Whether it is through taxes or high costs for gas or electricity, the cost to change these plants to help them release less ozone is something that we, as citizens, will fund.

This is the issue that has many governmental officials up in the air. Just decreasing the ozone amount by 5ppb could cost up to $8.8 billion per year, and it’s a cost that will be passed on to the citizens. Though the costs will add up, the decrease in ozone can decrease health care costs and the number of people who die prematurely. Is it worth that cost? I think so, but is it enough to make a difference? That is still to be decided.

The air problem in the United States is complex, as it is around the world. Ozone reduction is just one necessary step in making improvements. Here’s to better breathing.

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